Like many of you, I awoke last Monday to astonishing news: Benedict the XVI was going to resign his papacy. It has been over a week since that news shook the world and still the questions keep coming at me from all sides. “What do you think of the Pope’s resignation?” “Who will the next Pope be?” My answer is always the same. I have no idea, but I trust that the Holy Spirit will give us what we need and I surrender to the powerful mystery that has guided the Church from generation to generation.
It seems like everyone has an opinion about who the next Pope should be. Oddsmakers from around the world are taking bets on everything from the actual name of the cardinal elected to his age and country of origin. A word of warning, though: Pope Gregory XIV, in his Papal Bull Cognit nos, dated Mar. 21, 1591, said he “forbade under pain of excommunication all bets concerning the election of a pope, the duration of a pontificate or the creation of new cardinals.” Excommunication aside, save your money because guessing who is next in line for the papacy is a losing bet every time. Only God knows how the Holy Spirit will animate the College of cardinals as they discern what the Church needs in this time and this place.
For example, no one would have bet 35 years ago that a Cardinal from Poland would be the first non-Italian Pope elected in over 450 years. I remember being a teenager in 1978 and watching excitedly with my family as white smoke was finally seen billowing from the Sistine Chapel’s chimney, announcing to the world that a new Pope had been elected. I also remember being rather amused at the lack of information about this man from Poland who was now our Pope. The initial commentary on that first day was sparse as television anchors from around the world gritted their teeth and smiled as they desperately waited for their reporters to dig up relevant information about Karol Josef Wojtyla, the charismatic young Catholic leader from behind the Iron Curtain. The American news media — and the rest of us — were caught off guard because everyone was hedging bets, presuming that one of two powerful Italian cardinals would surely be elected to Shepherd the Church. We know how that worked out. John Paul II is now recognized as one of the great leaders of the 20th century.
Benedict XVI’s coming resignation, stunning as it is, is something that I can trust because I know he is a man of deep prayer. He loves the Church profoundly, and I have seen the Spirit moving powerfully in his life and ministry to the Church, even if I don’t fully understand how his resignation will impact the future of the papacy. Through prayer, Benedict discerned that the Catholic Church at this time needs a vigorous leader who is better able to navigate the complexities facing the Church, humanity and the world. Whoever is elected to the Chair of Peter will surely face many challenges. I trust, however, that with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, he will shepherd the Church to life-giving waters.
Some people say that the best days of the Church are far behind us. More pointedly, many are convinced that the papacy’s best days are long gone. Well, the only thing I can say to that is; don’t bet on it.
Fr. Patrick Rogers, S.J., is the director of Catholic Campus Ministry and Main Campus Outreach. AS THIS JESUIT SEES IT appears every other Friday.